In 1972, George Carlin spoke of the seven words that you cannot say on television. Forty years later, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was sued for the release of the 500 words that you should not say on Twitter or Facebook unless you want to risk the DHS monitoring you as a potential threat to our country. Some of the words forcibly released are listed in the picture accompanying this article (I don’t dare risk repeating the words here for fear of having a harder time boarding domestic aircrafts.)
Benjamin Franklin once warned, “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” These words have never rung as true as they do today.
The FAA Reauthorization Act that was passed in February gives both government and commercial entities great surveillance powers within our borders. This includes but is not limited to the use of drones to patrol American cities and skies. The Electronic Frontier Foundation projects that 30,000 drones could be in the nation’s skies by 2020.
While there are positive uses of drones such patrolling our borders and finding lost hikers, children or the stray cow (a drone was used to find a cow last year), there are serious concerns related to the protection of the privacy of law-abiding US citizens as required by the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution.
The Fourth Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures. To search, law enforcement must obtain a warrant supported by probable cause. As our Bill of Rights says, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Think for a second – how does the gathering of YOUR tweets, texts, phone calls, emails and other electronic data by the government or commercial entities acting on their behalf not infringe upon YOUR rights? While we all want the bad guys caught, who is to say that a bad guy might not be in government, Facebook, a phone company or serve in some other position of power over you? What is our protection against those who abuse their access to the surveillance and data about you? Who is surveilling those who are watching you? At present, there are virtually no controls on the use of such technology and compliance to insure checks and balances on abuses. The FAA are required to establish guidelines by 2015. The American Civil Liberties Union has warned that this law as passed by Congress and signed by President Obama could severely undermine the privacies enjoyed by all Americans’ for nearly a quarter of a millennia.
If this is not enough to get you concerned about your privacy and constitutional rights, look at technologies in development. CIA director David Petraeus has said that the rise of ‘connected’ gadgets controlled by ‘apps’ will mean that people will be bugging their own homes. Computer chip company ARM has unveiled low powered chips that will be in everything from refrigerators to door bells. All of these connected gadgets will allow spies to monitor you automatically.
Democracy is about freedom. Whether it is drone, the size of sugary drinks or the type of potato a person on welfare can buy (the Obama Administration banned the purchase of russet white potatoes despite no significant health difference vs. dark skinned potatoes), where do you draw the line on government and commercial entity interference with your rights, the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution?
Our founding fathers were outraged that British soldiers could enter their homes and search and seize their belongings at will. This is why they wrote the Constitution as they did. I wonder how they would feel today.